Through the frosted panes of Freda’s front door I can make out her zimmer at the foot of the kitchen step. The hall light is on.
All is well.
After jostling with the key she opens the door and greets me in her floral apron, tails trailing. (I wish they didn’t)
She looks a little shocked.
Her hair is a bit out of sorts.
She is very breathless.
Her nose and cheeks are mauve-grey.
I make a mental note to include “breathing”
“Are you expecting me?”
(occasionally the days are blurred)
“Oh yes I am”
“You seem a little out of puff”
Her hearing aids have still not arrived and she hears “out of touch”
We make our way from the door to her bed-sitting room and we sit together.
“I’m not connected at all.
My heart stopped while I was in bed this morning.
It was such a strange feeling that it made me sit up and then it started again.
The carers were very concerned and my doctor even kindly came to the house.
She checked me over very thoroughly and said that if there was no pain, it was fine. That it happens all the time and that normally we don’t notice it.
Well I did!”
“What was that like?”
I try not to let emotion interfere with my voice.
“Well I’m still alive, so I thought I’d better get on with it!”
Out of puff.
I come back to this.
I sit in front of her on a low stool and ask her to incline forward from the hips and to place her forearms on mine while she thinks of length through the front…. Length from the front of her pelvis to her brow and width across the front of her upper chest and shoulders.
This brings her away from her tendency to recline against the chair back, and prompts her to take responsibility for her balance as she sits ….
I ask her to walk towards the front of the chair by rolling from one sitting bone to the other and lifting each side of her pelvis.
I can now come around behind her to place my hands on each side of her rib basket, low at the back, and ask her to enjoy her breath.
She immediately expands into my hands and we laugh with the pleasure of this.
“I’ll bet you’ve done this thousands of times with your students ”
I was not intending to do breathing exercises as such, but I am happy that her ribs seem so free. She cracked them painfully from falling last summer.
“They don’t hurt a bit now”
It has taken her so long to describe her morning that we only do a little more work. She often finds it difficult to initiate speech, but once she does, she has much to say!
Moving from sitting to standing we continue with some work in front of the stool.
I ask her to consider the whole environment.
The roses in the garden to the front, and the hillside beyond.
the neighbours to each side, Totnes High Street out behind.
The boundaries of her room.
The space that she occupies
All this while I softly bring my hands in turn to her sternum, her upper back, her crown and my toe to her heel.
The outer surface of her shoulders.
The crests of her pelvis.
We do a little more work in sitting and then finally I say
“Now, as you come to stand, I would like you to bring your attention to the space around you in its entirety, while you incline forwards from the hips and direct your crown away from the base of your spine.
Freda rises in a slow yet smooth flow.
“How was it this time?” I ask her.
“I don’t know if this makes sense, but it felt complete.”
“Poi a poi di nuovo vivente” …… (little by little regaining life)….. is how Beethoven describes the transition from exhaustion to renewed strength in his penultimate sonata.
At a concert a few years ago I witnessed this passage of music return roses to the cheeks of a very frail old lady in the audience.
Freda’s colour has improved and her demeanor is softer and more relaxed. Less scattered and more present.
Alexander speaks about the indirect benefit to the cardiovascular system.
When things are working a little better, everything has the potential for improved function.
Perhaps he and Beethoven would have had something to talk about.